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My Life’s Birds: #345

October 7, 2009
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December 11, 1994 – Lake Springfield, Mo – Do you have any birds on your life list that you just can’t remember?  It’s a somewhat embarrassing situation to find yourself in, to play into all of the worst stereotypes of the birder.  To only seek out birds as a tick on a list to brag about to all of your twitcher friends rather than as an organism worthy of study in its own right.  I freely admit that many of my birding instincts are those of a chaser of rare birds.  I love the novelty of finding something unusual and certainly the additional tick placates whatever competitive impulse birding brings out of me.  And more, those twitched birds are cherished memories or a great time doing something I love, so I’m far more likely to remember a rare bird stakeout than I am the first sighting of a relatively common species.

Common MerganserI’ve never been in an area where Common Mergansers are easily found.  In North Carolina they’d be more apt to be Uncommon Mergansers for as often as I’ve seen them.  That is, once, distantly across a wide lake during my Big Year.  That’s hardly the way to experience the bizarre and beautiful duck with the serrated bill.  In Missouri, they breeze through in late fall and early winter, rarely sticking around.  Certainly not long enough to make an impression on a young birder who, 15 years later, has a hard time remembering even what plumage the birds were in.  My guess is that they were young birds, as the adults seem to leave an mark in the mind from what photos I’ve seen of them.

It’s a shame I can’t remember the specifics surrounding my first Common Mergansers beyond the day and place I saw them, but that’s the situation you may find yourself in without even knowing it.  On that cold morning in Lake Springfield when I added the birds to my life list I certainly didn’t expect this fleeting view to be the last experience I’d have with the species for several years and the best one to date.  That’s something you never know when you’re looking at any given bird.  I suppose that’s the lesson to take from the Common Merganser, reader.  Enjoy your birds, because at some point you may find yourself reaching back for a memory that’s not there.

photo from wikipedia

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5 Comments
  1. October 7, 2009 7:08 am

    “My guess is that they were young birds, as the adults seem to leave an mark in the mind from what photos I’ve seen of them.”

    Do you mean to say you have never seen an adult male Goosander/Common Merganser in breeding plumage?

  2. Nate permalink*
    October 7, 2009 8:17 am

    @Jochen- Yes, that is what I’m saying. Shameful.

  3. October 7, 2009 8:20 am

    Oh boy, will YOU need to visit the Baltic coast one winter…

  4. October 7, 2009 2:13 pm

    I had kind of the reverse experience in New Zealand this year when I “re-saw” wrybills. However, on checking my records I couldn’t find the bird. Yet I had seen it in 2003 for sure, hadn’t I? God knows it’s distinctive enough and I’m almost anal about logging sightings. Well, completely anal.

    But I can’t drag a clear picture out of my mind of seeing them back then. Maybe there’s a problem with the Matrix.

  5. Nate permalink*
    October 7, 2009 10:02 pm

    @Andy- I hear you. My notes aren’t nearly as good as they should have been back then, I should have been better about plumages that I saw the birds in. For some especially dramatic species that’s not a problem, but for something as innocuous as a Merganser, I just can’t bring the memory back.

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